Mechanisms of noise robust representation of speech in primary auditory cortex

Nima Mesgarani, Stephen V. David, Jonathan B. Fritz, Shihab A. Shamma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Humans and animals can reliably perceive behaviorally relevant sounds in noisy and reverberant environments, yet the neural mechanisms behind this phenomenon are largely unknown. To understand how neural circuits represent degraded auditory stimuli with additive and reverberant distortions, we compared single-neuron responses in ferret primary auditory cortex to speech and vocalizations in four conditions: clean, additive white and pink (1/f) noise, and reverberation. Despite substantial distortion, responses of neurons to the vocalization signal remained stable, maintaining the same statistical distribution in all conditions. Stimulus spectrograms reconstructed from population responses to the distorted stimuli resembled more the original clean than the distorted signals. To explore mechanisms contributing to this robustness, we simulated neural responses using several spectrotemporal receptive field models that incorporated either a static nonlinearity or subtractive synaptic depression and multiplicative gain normalization. The static model failed to suppress the distortions. A dynamic model incorporating feedforward synaptic depression could account for the reduction of additive noise, but only the combined model with feedback gain normalization was able to predict the effects across both additive and reverberant conditions. Thus, both mechanisms can contribute to the abilities of humans and animals to extract relevant sounds in diverse noisy environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6792-6797
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - May 6 2014


  • Cortical
  • Hearing
  • Phonemes
  • Population code

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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